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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

City Council adopts guidelines limiting time for public comment

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

McCOOK, Nebraska -- The McCook City Council unanimously approved the implementation of new citizen comment guidelines, Monday evening, during a regularly scheduled meeting at councilor chambers. The guidelines limit only citizen comments during public hearings, council meetings and during public meetings. Councilors and others speaking on specific items will not be limited by the new policy.

The guidelines also require anyone making comments to come to the podium and identify themselves.

City Clerk Lea Ann Doak said the policy would primarily come into play during larger attendance hearings. Councilors indicated they did not plan on having a timer going at all meetings.

Former City Councilman Aaron Kircher said that didn't make sense to him, "You're saying you can be lenient if you want to with the three minutes, but then if somebody with a controversial issue comes forward you throw this in their face and say, no that's the way its always been done?" Kircher asked.

Councilors replied that it primarily would be used to manage larger meeting numbers and Kircher asked "Why are we limiting people's time here?" He said citizens who attended meetings are there on their own time and should be given as much time as they needed.

"If they can't say it within three minutes, they are just running off at the mouth, you can make a point within three minutes, it's easy enough," said Councilor Jerry Calvin.

"A lot of the issues we face take more than 30 minutes to discuss, anybody can tell you that. Council members aren't limiting themselves to three minutes. I don't see that in there," said Kircher.

Kircher said if he had known the council was going in this direction, one that he believed made them less open to the public, he would have run for office again in the fall.

"We are just setting ground rules, civility is what this is all about," replied Councilman Calvin.

Councilor Mike Gonzales answered a question about wording in the guidelines that stated citizen's comments "must not be repetitive." Councilman Gonzales explained that in recent training meetings councilors had learned of a system to ask for numbers of individuals in support of or against a topic. He believed that practice would gather information about the number of people on either side of an issue, without hearing each individual speak. The explanation from Gonzales indicated the practice would be an unwritten one.

The guidelines also stated that during the Citizen's forum "The mayor and council will listen to your comments but will not take action at this meeting," which puts formal policy to Mayor Dennis Berry's practice of refusing to engage in conversation initiated by citizens on items not scheduled on the City Council agenda.

The guidelines will pertain to any commission, board or committee appointed by the City.

Aside from city staff and those speaking in support of the Heritage Hills Golf Course project, only two McCook citizens attended the City Council meeting Monday evening. The two citizens in attendance were both former city councilmen, Lonnie Anderson and Aaron Kircher.

During the meeting councilors recited the Pledge of Allegiance for the first time, since adopting it as part of their agenda during the March 19 meeting. The City Council meetings will continue to open with a prayer from a local church leader, which will then be followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.

Heritage Hills Golf Course Superintendent Bill Bieck along with Long Range Renovation Committee member Ron Friehe asked for the City Council to support a resolution which would assist them in acquiring a Nebraska State Tax Credit. The tax credit will be used to compliment fund raising efforts that aim at making improvements to the golf course.

Friehe said they were not asking for funds from the city or state but needed the city to partner with them in order to get the tax credit and be able to pass on tax credits to local businesses that provided financial support of the course upgrades.

"The course is 31 years old this year and there are some renovations we want to do, fairway changes, tee box changes, lengthening of some holes, those types of projects," said Friehe, adding that the upgrades were focused on the course itself, not any buildings at the course.

Friehe said they had a golf course architect provide them with four options for each hole, which will allow them flexibility dependent on the amount of funds raised.

"We don't want to raise fees, we don't want it to be a revenue increase for our golfers we want it to be revenue neutral," said Friehe. Friehe said Heritage Hills Golf Course was a top 75 golf course in the U.S. when it was built, but doubted it would be in the top 7,000 today, "but we might after this project."

Friehe said the course has seen steady decline in its out-of-town golfers over the last few years, attributing a portion of that to competitive courses in other areas as well as Heritage Hills not making significant changes to their own course.

"We don't have any extra money laying around, but we don't have any debts either. We are probably one of the few golf courses that I am aware of, that can say that, in today's world," said Friehe, adding that their goal was to complete the renovation project in a revenue neutral scenario.

Councilors unanimously approved the resolution supporting the golf course's participation in the Nebraska Community Development Assistance Act Program.

According to the State of Nebraska website the CDAA was created in 1985 by legislators to encourage business support of community betterment projects in chronic economically distressed areas.

City Manager Jeff Hancock recapped his recent activities to councilors. Hancock said that last week he attended the Nebraska Planning and Zoning Conference, which included a session on housing development. Hancock said he learned their had been a change in focus on housing, moving away from "low to moderate income folks" to all categories. "It was renters and apartments, now its all housing types, it used to be primarily low income in sections of town but now it's mixed income housing developments," said Hancock, who added that the information was of particular interest with the city comprehensive plan being drafted in the near future.

Hancock also commended one of the City of McCook dispatchers for successfully identifying and intercepting contraband drugs that were attempted to be smuggled in to an inmate at the city jail.

Councilors forwarded a claim for damages from a McCook citizen to their insurance carrier without comment. The claim was from Vernon O. Manker sought $69 to cover the expense of door glass broken by the McCook Police Department during a welfare check in February.

According to Manker a staff member at the McCook Heritage Senior Center called the police department after he had not been heard from for a few days. Manker told the Gazette last week during a phone interview that he was frustrated about the call because he often goes to the VA hospital in Grand Island and is gone for several days when he does.

Manker said he was sleeping when he awoke to two police officers standing over him. They informed him that they had broken in after he didn't answer the door. Manker explained that he needs hearing aids to hear and didn't have them in when the officer's knocked, he also said he was surprised to receive a bill for the repair work and was told by the police department they would not cover the expense.

Other items on the consent and regular agenda:

* Chief of Police Isaac Brown introduced his dispatch personnel to councilors in honor of a proclamation declaring April 8-15, 2012, as National Public Safety Telecommunications Week. Councilors also approved a second proclamation that declared the month of April as Sexual Assault Awareness month.

* A services agreement with W Design Associates, pertaining to design work for an asphalt replacement project on East 7th and Seminole streets was approved. The project is planned to encompass from East H Street to Park Avenue and is scheduled to begin the summer of 2013.

* The McCook Area Chamber of Commerce was approved for a special liquor license for a mixer at AmFirst Bank in April.

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While I understand the reasons for limiting the time in which a citizen can voice his/her opinion. Also, I must say that it must be extremely frustrating when there is a citizen who wants to be heard and also specific business that must be taken care of that evening. That is the nature of being on the council, and the reason most people do not want that job.But, I have to say that the "guideline" seems to be arbitrary. And unfortunately, it could also be used as a tool to silence people who have differing opinions from the council. In fact I believe that it could be considered a violation of a person's freedom of speech. Really, As long as the person speaking is staying on topic, then there should not be any specific length of time imposed on him/her. We as citizens of the United States we are guaranteed the right of free speech.

-- Posted by quick13 on Thu, Apr 5, 2012, at 11:06 AM

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